By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice on July 7, 2021
It’s around 950 miles on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from Miami to Norfolk, and Colington resident Will Freund is kayaking the whole distance.
From the outset, Freund wanted the trip to be more than just one man paddling the length of the ICW. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Charleston University in Biology with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. That was in 2017, and he spent the next few years working in public outreach and education programs.
Because of the work he had been doing, he felt there was a wide gap between the world of science and general knowledge. “Through my research work and my education work, I realized that the scientific level of knowledge, versus the public knowledge of science are on two completely different levels,” he said.
The mission of his trip, then, would be to listen and learn about how people viewed climate change. What he found was that regardless of gaps that may exist between scientific knowledge and people’s understanding of climate change, reasonable and meaningful conversations can occur.
“Science inherently is just facts. But science has become politicized in a lot of communities,” he said. “And I’ve learned during this trip that as long as I don’t approach it initially from a political angle, as long as I leave it as an open forum for discussion and to make sure that everyone feels like they have a voice in a conversation, it never gets hostile.”
The trip has been interrupted by COVID-19 and slowed by storms. But by last Monday, Freund had made it to Colington — with 130 miles from the Outer Banks to Norfolk— waiting for Tropical Storm Elsa to pass. Freund began his trip in March of 2020 just as the nation was coming to grips with the pandemic. He managed to get from Miami to Titusville, Florida, but it quickly became apparent that 2020 was not the year for the expedition.
“A lot of the marinas I was getting into were saying, ‘We’re not going to take any more outside boaters.’ That’s when I decided to come off the water,” he said. He spent a year waiting to restart the journey, living on the Outer Banks, and in April he was on the water again, picking up where he left off at Titusville next to Cape Canaveral.
The kayak he is using, a Hobie Mirage Adventure Island, is designed for a long trip. There’s a sail for when the wind is right, and it uses pedals and leg power when the wind dies to move the boat along.
There has been more than learning how people think about and communicate their thoughts on climate change. In a journey of 1,000 miles with only himself to rely upon, Freund found there were challenges beyond the physical.
“Something that I’ve really come to terms with over the last few months is how to understand what mental health is during an adventure of this kind,” he said. “You have a very [large] emotional spectrum. You have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and everything in between.”
Something as simple as clean water has taken on a new meaning on the trip. Freund carries a three-gallon water capacity with him, enough for three days if he is careful.
“That includes everything…drinking and cooking and cleaning,” Freund said. “It certainly teaches you…how important having access to clean water is. I think about every single drop of water that I use, that everything has multiple purposes.”
The journey of discovery has had its moments of beauty and wonder as well.
“Birds,” he said speaking personally, “are a big thing. I’m keeping track of all the different species of bird I’ve seen during this trip, and I’m over 100 species.”
He’s had manatees and dolphin swim by his kayak.
“I’ve been sailing along and peered over the edge of the boat, and I’ve had stingrays swimming along the boat. I’ve seen otters. I’ve seen sea turtles. I’ve seen alligators,” he said.
If things go as he hopes, he’ll finish the journey in the next two weeks and come home to work on his next project.
“The hope is to finish this up in Norfolk, come back here on the Outer Banks and start the editing process of creating this documentary. The documentary is going to be a full- length documentary,” he said.
Freund’s trip is being funded through his Climate, Kayak and Conversation GoFundMe page. Any excess funds raised will go to the Environmental Educators of North Carolina, a nonprofit that works with North Carolina educators and organizations to promote environmental knowledge.